Lesson 2 – Qualities of a good web hosting

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Good webspace is at the heart of any successful website. Whether you use ready-made content management systems such as WordPress or use the knowledge acquired here to develop your own website using PHP, you need PHP-enabled web space to make your site available on the internet. But finding good web space is not easy with the multitude of offers. Some offers do not have all the necessary features, other offers run on slow servers that tend to fail frequently: a nuisance to any visitor.

This article will help you on how to find good PHP web space and how to make your PHP page available online to the world.

Shared hosting, vServer, dedicated server? – The basics

There is an unmanageable range of ways to get your PHP scripts or PHP website online. Here is a brief overview:

  • Shared hosting: The provider operates a PHP enabled server and provides you as a customer with a certain amount of storage space and resources available. This server is used by several customers (with different domains) and the resources are shared. The necessary software is already installed and managed by the operator.
  • Virtual Server (vServer): On the server runs a virtual operating system (mostly Linux) and you can install on this any software. Here you have to install a web server and PHP yourself.
  • Dedicated Server: Here you get your own server in the data center and can install any software. The computing power of the server is yours alone.
  • Managed Server:  Similar to Dedicated Server you get your own server here. However, the vendor’s system administrators take over the management of the server and ensure that the server runs smoothly. Such offers often cost several hundred euros per month and is only recommended for very high-traffic pages (from 500,000 page views a month).

I strongly recommend everyone to use shared hosting services and to let virtual servers and dedicated servers to professionals.

The big advantage of these shared hosting offerings is that the complete software is already installed and configured. Likewise, the provider takes care of software updates and monitors them for vulnerabilities and attacks. Thus, the offers are absolutely beginner friendly and do not actually work. Since several customers use the server, prices start from a few euros per month. Even after more than 10 years of professional web development, I mainly rely on shared hosting services.

What should a good shared hosting offer be?

Lesson 2 - Qualities of a good web hosting - Lesson 2 - Qualities of a good web hosting - Lesson 2 - Qualities of a good web hosting - ruse

The range of shared hosting offers is very confusing and the pages of the providers show off many details and features. But most are absolutely unnecessary and are for marketing purposes only. No one needs 50,000 email addresses, so you can easily take the hoster who offers “only” 10,000 email addresses. And even you do not need these, if it comes up maybe 1 – 50 e-mail addresses.

The most important features of a webspace are never mentioned:

  • Accessibility: Due to downtime and overloading, your website may not be accessible. Of course, this is very annoying for your visitors if your page is regularly unavailable. Some providers are extremely good at this point and have an availability of almost 100%. For other providers, especially from the low-cost segment, but can be extremely frequent and sometimes even several hours failures.
  • Computing Capacity: For shared hosting offers, several customers share a server, therefore the computing capacity (CPU & RAM) has to be shared. If there are too many customers on a server, or if the hardware is too old, then your scripts may run at very slow speeds, resulting in a slow page load.
  • Data connection: The network connection of the data centers to the central Internet junctions in Germany is very different. Some providers have many good and fast connections, some only a few or even just one. If the connection of the data center is too bad, then this leads to slow transmission times. Especially with larger amounts of data such as images, videos or files, this can be very disturbing. Large providers often advertise with large numbers in the data connection, eg 1 & 1 with 360 GBit / s. However, this figure is not very meaningful, since large data centers naturally need a larger data connection than smaller ones.
  • Backups: Data loss can be very annoying and can mean a lot of work for you. Therefore, the provider should ideally create a daily backup and keep several weeks for you. This point is very different for the providers. Some providers, eg DomainFactory saves backups only for 3 days. Here you have to determine so damn fast the loss of data. Other providers, eg Strato, store backups for up to 4 weeks.

On the websites of the web hosting providers you often find the following advertising messages:

  • Storage : For most websites, a few gigabytes are enough, unless you want to save large pictures, videos or files. Our page with around 150 pages requires about 100 MB of space for files & pictures and 25 MB for the database.  As you can see, 10GB is actually more than adequate. From 1000 high-resolution pictures you may need more storage space. So do not be fooled by the marketing, if it advertises with 500GB instead of 250GB, I have not needed more than 1GB for any of my numerous web projects.
  • Number of databases: One database tends to be perfect. If you run several projects on the server, several databases can be useful for the overview. As a rule of thumb, I would rate 1 database per web project. Rarely have I needed more than a total of 5 databases at one provider. Again, it does not matter if the provider advertises now with 1000 or 5000 possible databases, you will not need them anyway.
  • Domains: The number of inclusive domains should not be a reason for or against a provider. You can easily order more domains, cost about 0.40 – 0.99 euros per month for .de domains. Larger packages with more inclusive domains can be priced but interesting.
  • E-Mail: Most offers come with a mail function so that you can set up e-mail addresses of the form address@domainname.com. How much storage space and how many e-mail addresses you need depends on you, some continue to use their private email address at GMX or GMail, others use the offered e-mail functions of the web space. If you really want to use the e-mail function, you should count on 1 – 10 GB per mailbox.

In addition to the reachability and load time values, your web Hosting provider offer should also include certain technical features so you can easily run a wide range of web applications there. For professional websites, I think the following features are important:

  • PHP7: Unlike PHP5, PHP7 is almost twice faster. If you choose a provider today, it should definitely support PHP7. Another speed boost may be the cache engine OPcache. Here your PHP scripts are compiled and kept in the cache.
  • MySQL 5.6 and InnoDB : The vendor should offer a modern MySQL database (eg 5.6 or later) as well as the storage engine InnoDB. Some vendors support only old MySQL versions or the outdated MyISAM storage engine.
  • SSL certificate: In order to send data via an encrypted https connection, an SSL certificate must be installed on the server. For some providers, this is already included free of charge, other providers can buy it for a few euros a month. But unfortunately, there are providers and tariffs that do not support this or offer against extremely high fees.
  • Cronjobs: Cronjobs can be used to control regular tasks such as making a nightly backup or sending a newsletter. Unfortunately, not all providers support this in their tariffs, especially missing in many entry-level tariffs.

Avoidable errors in the choice of web host

You should be careful with the various low-cost suppliers, who often advertise with extremely low prices or supposedly generous offers. If the shared hosting tariffs are then sold at a low price, this is very much at your expense. Slow servers, frequent outages and bad service are the consequences. Good offers must, therefore, cost between 5 and 10 euros per month.

You should also be wary of too small and very young hosting companies. There are many companies that only offer hosting as a side business or that have not been on the market for a long time. With such companies, the danger is particularly high that the business will be stopped with negative consequences for your website.

Upload files to the web space

In order to upload your scripts to the web space and make them accessible on the internet, you usually need the FTP access data of your web hosting package as well as a corresponding FTP client, which allows you to upload files.

The FTP access data are available in the administration area of your provider. For netcup , the administration area can be found at https://www.webhostingcontrolpanel.de .

 

As an FTP client, I can recommend the free program FileZilla :

 

After starting FileZilla click on the server manager (1) or alternatively File -> Servermanager. There you can create a new server connection. After clicking on New server you can enter the connection data in the right part (3):

  1. As a server, you can either specify the name of the server on which your package is set up or mostly your domain.
  2. As a protocol, you should choose SFTP (if possible), in this way the data is encrypted.
  3. Select Normal as the connection type and enter your FTP username and FTP password that you have received from your provider in the administration area.
  4. Finally, click Connect to set up the FTP connection. The credentials are stored in FileZilla so you will not need to re-enter them in the future.

After successful connection to the server, you will usually see different folders.

 

Which folders you see is different for each provider and each folder has a different function. At netcup is the important folder of the  httpdocs folder. Files in this folder will then be available through your domain on the Internet. This is equivalent to the htdocs folder of your XAMPP installation.

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